Going to court can be confusing and overwhelming! Click on the questions below to discover answers about how to best prepare for local court.
CRC’s Court Support Scheme is funded by the Community Legal Centres Program administered by Legal Aid NSW
How do I prepare for my court appearance?
I’ve got a Court Attendance Notice (CAN) - what do I do?
- Check your court date and time on the top of the CAN. If you’ve lost your paperwork, call the police station where you were charged to obtain another copy.
- You can use the NSW Online Registry to search for your court date and time.
- Check the address of the court
- Seek legal advice as soon as you can by calling LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529
- Legal Aid NSW, the Aboriginal Legal Service, and Community Legal Centres also provide free legal advice and may assist you in court matters.
Remember to take your Court Attendance Notice (CAN) to court with you on the day.
Do I need a lawyer?
Legal advice means a lawyer telling you the best way to deal with your court case. It is a very good idea to get legal advice because it will help you to:
- Understand your rights
- Make the best decisions about what to do about your court case
- Decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty
- Get the best outcome for you in court
Legal representation means a lawyer speaks for you in court and helps you through your case.
You can represent yourself in court if it is a simple matter but it may be better if you can get a lawyer to speak for you in court.
It is much better to have a lawyer if you are going to plead not guilty. That is because a lawyer can help you in the hearing process.
You can get legal advice or representation before you go to court by calling LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529.
How do I get legal advice or representation?
Legal Aid NSW provides free advice to people who can’t afford to pay for a lawyer.
Go to the Law Access NSW website or phone them on 1300 888 529 to get an appointment with Legal Aid NSW.
Some local courts have ‘duty lawyers’ who help people at court that day who do not have their own lawyer. Some local courts do not have duty lawyers so you need to speak to Legal Aid NSW before you go to court.
Getting legal representation
To apply for a Legal Aid NSW lawyer, you will need to complete an application form in a Legal Aid NSW office or on their website. If you need help doing this call LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529 or a Legal Aid NSW office.
Community Legal Centres
Some community legal centres provide advice on minor criminal matters.
Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS) provide targeted legal support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons. Call your Local ALS service on 1800 765 767.
A private lawyer
You can choose any private lawyer to represent you.
These can be very expensive and not necessarily better than Legal Aid so if you are eligible for Legal Aid, that may save you a lot of money.
You can find a list of private lawyers here
Do I have to attend court?
However, there are different ways you can attend court besides going to the court in person. You can ‘attend’ court by emailing a Written Notice of Pleading form to the relevant court. You may also be able to apply to attend court via video link or telephone.
If you don’t attend court, it can cause you a lot of problems, for example:
- The Magistrate might make a decision about you without you having had your say.
- The Magistrate might tell the police to find you and arrest you. This is called an arrest warrant.
- It goes onto your criminal record as a ‘failure to appear’. This means that you will find it more difficult to get bail in future.
Some court appearances have been moved online or by phone because of COVID-19 public health orders.
Due to of COVID-19 public health orders some court appearances have been moved online or by phone. However, the advice about who can attend a court in person changes regularly, so check with your lawyer or the court’s website.
What should I say in court?
Getting legal advice will help you to decide what to say.
- Whether you will plead guilty or not guilty.
- What you will say about what happened.
- Whether you need any documents about your case.
Sometimes you might need things like
- ♦ a police fact sheet,
- ♦ evidence of how much income you have,
- ♦ your criminal record,
- ♦ medical reports,
- ♦ copies of statements or character references.
What should I take to court?
- Your Court Attendance Notice (CAN).If you have lost your paperwork, call the police station where you were charged to obtain another copy.
- Any documents you have about your case, such as a police fact sheet, evidence of how much income you have, your criminal record, medical reports, copies of statements or character references.
- A pen and paper to take notes in court.
- Any essential medications, your phone and food, in case you have to stay at court all day.
What should I wear to court?
Dressing in a tidy and respectful way might help you to feel a bit more confident.
If you need help finding clothes to wear to court, charities such as Vinnies, Red Cross or Salvos may be able to help.
No hats or caps or sunglasses may be worn in the courtroom.
Who can come to court with me?
Don’t bring children unless you really have to. Court will be long and boring for them and courts can be stressful places for anyone.
If children come into the courtroom they need to be quiet, so bring something quiet to keep them busy, such as a book or comic.
COVID-19 public health orders might affect the number of people allowed to enter the court. Check here for any new information concerning Covid-19 restrictions.
Can I check which court and room I’m in ahead of time?
This court list doesn’t always give the exact courtroom. When you arrive at the court you can check the list displayed in the foyer or ask at the Court Registry.
English is not my first language - can I get an interpreter?
If you haven’t arranged an interpreter in advance, a small number of courts have interpreters on-site available to translate the most common local languages.
For example, Bankstown court has Arabic and Vietnamese interpreters. You can ask for an interpreter at the Court Registry.
If there is no interpreter at the court in your language, you will need to get your court appearance put off until another day. This is called an ‘adjournment’. You have to ask for this in the call-over court.
Your lawyer or the court officer will arrange an interpreter for your next day in court.
What are some other resources to look at before I go to court?
Click here to download “How do I prepare for my court appearance?” as a PDF
What will happen on my court day?
What time do I arrive and how long will I be there for?
You should be prepared to be at court until 4pm if necessary. Don’t make any other plans for that afternoon in case you are still at court.
What happens when I arrive at the court building?
The security point at the entrance to the court will have some or all of the following:
- A court sheriff and security officers
- Metal detectors that you walk through
- A scanning machine that you put your bags through
Make sure that you don’t take anything into court that is not allowed, such as any weapons, glass bottles, scissors, tools, syringes or drugs for which you don’t have a prescription. You may be charged with a criminal offence if you have accidently left an item in your bag, such as a pocket knife.
If you have a medical reason that you cannot go through a scanner, tell the officer at the door and they can check you using a hand-held wand instead.
What should I do when I first arrive?
Other courts have a list on the wall in the foyer with your name and which courtroom to go to.
If you have a lawyer, they will tell you where to meet them at court and where to wait.
If you don’t have a lawyer, you should wait in the public gallery inside the courtroom.
If the courtroom is busy, the court officer might ask you to wait outside the courtroom. The court officer will call your name when the court is ready for you.
Can I get legal advice on the day of court?
Some courts do not have a duty lawyer and you will need to get legal advice before the day of court.
You can call Law Access NSW on 1300 888 529 to find out what to do at the court you are going to.
Look for signs to the Legal Aid office as soon as you arrive. The Legal Aid NSW office sometimes has a piece of paper on the door for you to write your name on.
The lawyer speaks to people on the list, roughly in the order they have written their name down.
Ask the lawyer for legal advice and for an application form to find out if they can represent you in court.
If you can’t get legal advice before your court appearance, you can ask for your case to be delayed.
You do this by going into the call-over court and asking for an adjournment until you can get legal advice.
What should I do if I’m feeling stressed and anxious about going to court?
However, you should behave in a polite and respectful manner at all times. You should call the Magistrate ‘Your Honour’ and stand when spoken to by a Magistrate.
If you are feeling nervous, you could try the following:
- Having a supportive friend, family member or other support person accompany you at court.
- Calling a support person on the phone while waiting to go into court.
Make sure you are still listening for your name in case the court officer calls you into court.
The court has a 20-minute break for morning tea and an hour’s break for lunch. This is when you can go outside for some fresh air or a brief walk around the block.
Some courts have support services such as chaplains or therapy dogs that you can access if you need to. You can ask at the Court Registry office if there are any support services at the court.
If you have never been to court and want to know how it all works, you could sit in the public gallery of the court on another day to watch what happens and see how the court works.
What happens if I’m running late or don’t turn up?
If you are running late, call your lawyer to let them know.
If you don’t have a lawyer, call the NSW Courts Service Centre on 1300 679 272 to let them know and then get to the court as soon as possible. The NSW Courts Service Centre is open Monday to Friday, 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. (excluding public holidays).
When you arrive, check the court list on the wall to see which court you should be in, go into the courtroom and quietly tell the court officer you have arrived.
If you do not turn up to court at all, the Magistrate may make a decision about your case without you being there or they may put your case off (adjourn it) until another day. The Magistrate may also issue a bench warrant for your arrest, which means the police will look for you, arrest you and bring you to court.
If the Magistrate believes you may fail to attend again, they can send you to prison to wait for your court matter there. Any failure to attend goes on your court record, reducing any chances of receiving bail in the future.
If you missed your court date, call the NSW Courts Service Centre on 1300 679 272 to find out what happened and what you should do.
What happens if I am too sick to go to court?
What do I do after my court appearance?
If you have pleaded ‘guilty’ the Magistrate may have sentenced you that day or you may have to come back on another day for sentencing.
If you have pleaded ‘not guilty’ or asked for an adjournment, you will need to come back to court on another date as advised by the Magistrate.
If you pleaded guilty, make sure you understand the sentence and the next steps. Talk to your lawyer if you have one. If you don’t have one, you can talk to the court officer or the court registry to understand what happened in court.
You may have to collect papers or sign documents after your court appearance.
These documents might be AVO documents, a fine, a Good Behaviour Bond or other Order imposed by the Magistrate. These documents will be explained to you when you sign into them at the Court Registry. If you are not sure if you have to collect or sign anything after court, you can check with staff at the Registry.
What happens if I get a prison sentence?
Most people will initially go to a correctional centre (prison) that takes people straight after court. These are sometimes called reception correctional centres.
The ones that people often go to in Sydney are:
If there is no space at a correctional centre, you will be held temporarily in the court cells close to the court.
There are court cells at Albury, Batemans Bay, Dubbo, Lismore, Moree, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Queanbeyan, Surry Hills, Wagga Wagga and Wollongong.
For information on preparing for prison see CRC website here.
Click here to download “What will happen on my court day?” as a PDF
For families and friends
How do I find someone who has been arrested, and will they go to court?
Police can keep people in custody for up to six hours before deciding whether to grant them bail. If the police need more time to investigate, they can apply to a Duty Magistrate to keep the person at the police station for longer.
When you know which police station your family member is at, the police will usually tell you whether or not they have granted them bail.
If the police refuse your family member bail, they must take them to court as soon as possible. This depends on the time of day.
If the court is closed for the day, your family member will have to stay in the police cells until the next day. The Local Court is open for bail hearings seven days per week.
Once you know which court they are going to appear at, you can go to the court.
If your family member has their own lawyer, they might be there to help with a bail application.
Otherwise, everyone who has been refused police bail will have a Legal Aid NSW duty lawyer to help them.
Look for a room labelled ‘Legal Aid’ and ask to speak to the duty lawyer dealing with ‘fresh custodies’.
The lawyer won’t be able to say much without the client’s permission but they can tell you which courtroom to sit in and can tell the person that you are at court.
Alternatively, you could find out which courtroom is hearing ‘fresh custodies’ and wait in the public gallery in that courtroom until the person appears.
You will not be able to talk to them, touch them or give them anything.
If you don’t understand what was said in court you can wait until the duty solicitor tells the Magistrate they have finished all the fresh custody cases and leaves the courtroom.
Politely ask them for an explanation of what has happened.
Can I speak to my family member’s lawyer?
However, lawyers always require permission from their clients before they can share any details of cases with a family member, even if you are the person’s next of kin.
If you don’t know if they have a lawyer, you can ask the local court’s Legal Aid NSW office if they will be representing your family member.
You can ask the lawyer to get your family member’s permission for them to tell you what is happening.
You can usually sit in the courtroom where the bail hearing is being held and listen to what is happening. You will have to wait until your family member appears. They may appear in person or by audio-visual link.
Can I speak to my family member while they are in custody?
If your family member is granted bail, you can wait for them to come out from the court cells. Ask a staff member where they will come from and wait close to it.
If they are refused bail, you will not be permitted into the court cells to see them. You can ask the lawyer who represented them to pass on a message.
If the person goes to prison, you cannot call them, they will have to call you once they have their phone account set up, which can take a week or so.
To check which correctional centre they are at, call Sentence Administration on (02) 8346 1000 (Monday-Friday 8.30am-4.30pm).
How can I arrange support for someone who is going to court?
Services for defendants:
There are few support services for defendants. Some courts have support services such as chaplains or therapy dogs that you can access if you need to.
You can ask at the Court Registry office about what services are available at the court.
Defendants with a cognitive impairment can seek support through IDRS JAS [Justice Advocacy Service] Contact them on 1300 665 908 well before the day of your court appearance.
Services for victims and witnesses:
- : supports victims and witnesses of crime who are required to testify at court as police witnesses
Mission Australia Court Support Service: provides information, support, advocacy and referral to victims and witnesses of crime who are attending court
WDVCAS: provides information, advocacy and referrals to assist women and their children who are or have been experiencing domestic and family violence with their legal, social and welfare needs
How do I find out what happened at the court appearance?
If the person in custody has given permission for their lawyer to speak to you, they will be able to tell you what is happening.
Courts and lawyers have to respect your family member’s privacy and confidentiality so will NOT be able to tell you the outcome of a court case. You may have to wait for your family member to contact you themselves.
If you are unable to attend court in person, you can call the NSW Courts Service Centre on 1300 679 272 during normal business hours. The NSW Courts Service Centre may be able to advise you on the court results so long as it is not a closed court proceeding, or subject to a non-publication and suppression order.
If the case is ongoing, you can use the NSW Online Registry to search for the persons next court date and time. You can search NSW Court and Tribunal Lists here.
What happens if my family member is sent to prison?
You will not usually get a chance to speak to them before they are taken to the court cells to await transfer to prison. You are not usually able to speak to the person until they contact you themselves from the prison.
It is not possible to phone the prison to speak to them.
Most people will initially go to a correctional centre (prison) that takes people straight after court. These are sometimes called reception correctional centres. The ones that people often go to in Sydney are:
- at Silverwater
If there is no space at a correctional centre, they will be held temporarily in the court cells close to the court. There are court cells at Albury, Batemans Bay, Dubbo, Lismore, Moree, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Queanbeyan, Surry Hills, Wagga Wagga and Wollongong.
For information on preparing for prison see CRC website here.
Click here to download “For families and friends” as a PDF